The Associated Press
Some arriving in limousines, NBA players around the country went to the polls Wednesday in a referendum on a proposed labor agreement that will determine the fate of the union and possibly the coming season.
Players, locked out since July 1, could either vote to continue their union, and in effect accept the labor deal, or abolish it, and send the labor dispute into federal court.
Results of the vote, conducted at 47 National Labor Relations Board offices Wednesday and Sept. 7, will be announced Sept. 12 in New York.
NBA commissioner David Stern has said if decertification wins, the lockout will delay the start of the season.
Regardless of which side they were on, players said their chief concern was playing on Nov. 3 as scheduled.
''For 12 years, there was never a question about what I'd do in October,'' when training camp begins, said Atlanta's Craig Ehlo.
It was unknown exactly how many of the approximately 420 eligible players showed up to cast their secret ballots.
NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said his reports indicated a ''large'' turnout, something the league and the union believed would help them get the simple majority needed to decide the issue.
But, prior to the balloting, the group backing decertification was confident it had enough votes to prevail.
In Detroit, Pistons guard Joe Dumars shared a limo ride to the NLRB office with teammates Terry Mills and Mark Macon, along with Dallas' Doug Smith. New Jersey's Derrick Coleman, voting at the same time, said all four went for the deal.
''I'm for the union,'' said Coleman, among the league's highest paid players last year. ''I think we all should settle down and vote for the union. I think it's been good to us all these years.''
Hakeem Olajuwon was among those voting in Los Angeles, where most of the players were dressed in shorts and T-shirts. The Houston Rockets star wouldn't say how he voted, but Eric Piatkowski of the Clippers said he voted yes.
''I want to play,'' he said. ''I don't know if I felt a lot of pressure. It was a tough decision. I feel like this is the best deal we were going to get.''
Phoenix guard Dan Majerle, who arrived at the NLRB office in Phoenix with Suns player representative Joe Kleine, said his decision was easy to make.
''I was well-informed by my guy Joe, who's been involved with this all summer, and I felt there really wasn't a choice. I don't think decertification is what anybody wants, because it's untested waters. I want to play this year, and Madison Majerle, my little baby, wants me to play this year, so I voted yes. Baby's got to eat.''
The controversy over whether the labor deal is better for owners than for players has put teammates and friends on opposite sides. The union leadership has the support of Karl Malone and Shaquille O'Neal, while the decertification movement is led by Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, who have been active lobbying their colleagues.
Kleine went so far as to make a prediction on the outcome.
''I think it'll pass,'' he said. ''I don't think it'll be a slim margin, but I don't think it's going to be a slam dunk, either.''
Read Next Article